Ohio officials announced today they have confirmed a fourth case of novel coronavirus COVID-19 in the state — a 53-year-old man in Stark County, where Canton is located.
That case is especially alarming because the man has said he has not traveled lately and has not come in contact with anyone who has a confirmed case of the illness. That's called "community spread," experts say, and it signals a new phase in the struggle to contain the virus.
Ohio Department of Health Director Amy Acton called the revelation "a game changer."
Twenty-four other possible cases are under investigation. The state maintains a website that it will update with further tested and confirmed cases. Indiana has seen 10 cases so far, while Kentucky has eight. None in the region have yet resulted in death.
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine implored organizers of large gatherings and sporting events to cancel them; he says a state order to do so is forthcoming if they do not. DeWine asked that sporting events across the state be open to athletes, officials, essential personnel and the media only.
DeWine also laid out new protocols for visiting nursing homes, where some of those most vulnerable to the virus live. Each resident will be able to see only one visitor a day, and that visitor must sign in and have their temperature taken before entering.
DeWine said the state will not order K-12 schools to close just yet, though that order could come in the future. Yesterday, DeWine told the state's colleges and universities to switch to remote instruction. Xavier University, Miami University and the University of Cincinnati have all indicated they will comply.
In Cincinnati, Mayor John Cranley today announced a state of emergency in the city limits. That will allow the city to move more quickly on containment procedures. The state of emergency allows the city to more easily cancel public events, restrict travel and regulate the sale of gasoline and firearms on a temporary basis.
The mayor said the city has the power to revoke event permits, order events canceled and take other measures necessary to slow the spread of the virus, but hedged on whether the city will do so at this time for popular events like the March 17 St. Patrick's Day Parade, FC Cincinnati's home opener and the March 26 Cincinnati Reds Opening Day Parade. Cranley instead asked those events to cancel themselves.
"Cincinnati will get through this, the country will get through this," Cranley said today as he formally announced the state of emergency. "But we're going to have to rely on each other, we're going to have to accommodate each other, and we have to change our behaviors."
Those behaviors include not coming to work if you feel ill, keeping six feet of space between yourself and coworkers, frequent hand washing and avoiding large events if you're older, have a compromised immune system or have conditions like asthma.
The virus is likely coming to Hamilton County — or may already be here. Officials say the response now is an effort to "flatten the curve," or to spread out infection rates so that local hospitals aren't completely overwhelmed with cases of the disease.
At today's announcement, Cranley acknowledged that some residents of Hamilton County are currently being tested for the virus, but declined to reveal how many. Yesterday, Cincinnati Health Commissioner Melba Moore said 23 people in Cincinnati had been tested for the virus, though none have come up positive yet.
Cincinnati Public School the Academy of World Languages has been closed for the past two days after a staff member there self-quarantined after experiencing symptoms of illness. Janitorial staff are working to deep-clean the school's Evanston building while it is closed.
Coronaviruses are a broad category of virus that cause the common cold, among other illnesses. COVID-19 is what scientists call a new, or "novel" form of the virus — one that hasn't been encountered before and one which epidemiologists do not yet know how to combat.
The virus sometimes causes mild symptoms, or no symptoms at all. But it can also cause very acute respiratory illness that can require hospitalization and even lead to death — mostly among people who are over the age of 60 or who have chronic illness or compromised immune systems.
UC Health's Dr. Dustin J. Calhoun told attendees at a March 10 city summit that 80 percent of people infected will experience a mild cold. The majority who experience more severe symptoms will also recover. At this early stage, pregnant women and children seem to be less vulnerable, Calhoun said.
Those most at risk are the elderly — mortality rates for those above 70 shoot up to 8 percent, while those under 40 have an estimated mortality rate of about .2 percent. International health officials say the global mortality rate for COVID-19 is currently hovering around 3.4 percent.
But that rate includes the very high proportion of early deaths reported in Wuhan, China — where the virus first made an appearance and where the high number of cases overwhelmed health facilities. Across the rest of China, the death rate has been much lower — about .7 percent.
Some in Cincinnati are playing it safe. Cincinnati City Councilmember P.G. Sittenfeld today asked the public not to attend a news conference announcing his appointment for a vacant council seat left by Tamaya Dennard's resignation earlier this month. And local group Invest in Neighborhoods yesterday announced it will postpone its annual Neighborhood Summit, a gathering of city officials, civic groups, neighborhood volunteers and others.